What rights do Tennessee drivers have at sobriety checkpoints?

Understanding their rights when stopped at sobriety checkpoints in Tennessee may help drivers protect themselves.

According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, there were 18,913 driving under the influence arrests across the state in 2017 alone. For some drivers, such arrests may result from being pulled over at a DUI checkpoint. At such stops, law enforcement can stop all or a portion of the vehicles to check for impaired drivers. Understanding their rights when stopped at sobriety checkpoints may help people protect themselves and avoid unnecessary legal issues.

Answering questions

Upon stopping vehicles at sobriety checks, law enforcement officers typically approach them to speak with the drivers. Often, people feel obligated to talk to them because they are in a position of authority.

It is important for motorists to know they are not legally required to respond to questions. Rather, they may choose to provide the authorities with a card informing them they are choosing to invoke their Constitutional rights, including right to remain silent and right to continue on their way if officers do not have a reasonable suspicion to continue the stop.

Performing roadside tests

If they suspect drivers are intoxicated, law enforcement officers may ask drivers to exit their vehicles and perform a series of field sobriety tests. These include the one-leg stand, the walk-and-turn, and other tests. The State may try to use people’s performance on these tests to prove impairment.

While they may not inform them of their right when making the request, motorists should keep in mind that they are not required to submit to these tests. Refusing does not, however, safeguard them from arrest.

Submitting to breath tests

Once law enforcement officers establish probable cause to place them under arrest, drivers are often asked to submit to breath or blood tests. At this point, they no longer have the right to refuse these tests without consequences. Doing so may be considered a violation of the state’s implied consent law and result in a revocation of their driving privileges for one to two years, depending on various factors including their prior arrest record. The penalties associated with a breath or test refusal are incurred on top of any that are levied as a DUI arrest that leads to conviction.

Obtaining legal representation

Even a first-time drunk driving arrest in Tennessee may have life-changing implications. Therefore, people who have been charged with driving under the influence should consult with a lawyer. A legal representative may help them establish a solid defense, which may include questioning whether their rights were violated at any point during the sobriety checkpoint or their subsequent arrest.

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